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I turned 28 this weekend (or as my brain keeps understanding it, T-2 to 30) and am now getting ready for one of the best birthday experiences of all time: a trip through five incredible European cities, only one of which I’ve ever visited before. I’m on my way to Paris as I write this, and will then be stopping in Amsterdam, Brussels, Cologne, and Bruges.

Expect lots of pretty pictures is what I’m saying folks.

28 and happy in London.

As you might have read if you follow me on Instagram, the older I get, the less I try to freak out about each passing year. I can already hear my older readers snickering at my lack of freaking out at age 28, but bear with me.

Advancing in age only scares me if I 1) start thinking that my lifestyle and choices have to change each year to line up with social expectations or 2) I’m not working hard enough towards my goals, so the wasted time and failed potential starts to scare me.

At the moment, I’m alright with the direction I’m heading in and the life I’m leading. So I thought I’d share 28 things I’ve learned, so when I’m 38, I can look at this list and laugh at how much more I’ve grown  in the next ten years.

Joanna Kalafatis Lose the Map

My 38-year-old self’s expression in regard to my current “knowledge”.

1. We have the wrong default modes for using the words “yes” and “no”. I had to overcome the tendency to say “yes” to obligations and favors I really couldn’t take on, which made me frequently overextend myself, and overcome the tendency to say “no” to things I hadn’t tried before, or opportunities that didn’t fall in line with my general life plan. Instead, now I try to say “no” to too much distraction, and “yes” to new opportunities I may have never thought of experiencing.

2. Travel will only open your mind and impact you if you let it. Plenty of people travel their whole lives staying within the confine of luxury hotels and 2-3 predetermined tourist spots, never really experiencing the places and the people around them beyond that.

3. Ignore the phrase “if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life”. Yes you will. This is insane and unrealistic. Even your favorite job will have aspects that are most definitely not your favorite. Life has unpleasant and frustrating parts you have to slog through, and that will always be the case. How about just make sure you love what you’re doing 70-80% of the time?

4. There’s no need to cling to relationships and friendships that have run their course – when a relationship becomes constantly taxing beyond just a “rough patch”, let it go. Enjoy and appreciate what you had together, don’t regret, and move on.

5. You can be single for the right or wrong reasons, and in a relationship for the right or wrong reasons. Being one way does not make you intrinsically more well-adjusted or fulfilled than being the other way, so stop judging both.

6. Never stop learning. When you stop challenging yourself and acquiring new knowledge and skills, your brain withers; according to science, quite literally.

7. You’re more adaptable and resilient than you think. There are situations or events you think you’ll never accept, until you find yourself in that position and realize that you have no other choice. Life always goes on.

8. Make sure you’re living a life that makes you feel full and happy when you look back at it, rather than one that makes you wonder where all the time went and has no distinct memories attached to it.

Vernazza hike

9. On that note, don’t let nostalgia or future dreaming take over your mind too much. Be present.

10. I never thought that at the relatively young age of 28, my diet and exercise habits would (to such a huge extent) affect how well I function and feel. They do, and so I improve them year by year.

11. As I get older, drinking responsibly becomes a necessity rather than a choice. The hangovers that used to be cured with a burger and an Advil now require 24 hours of hydration, rest, and Netflix. Plus, hangovers waste too much time you could spend doing other amazing and productive things.

12. Watch the time you waste. To be clear, by wasted time I don’t mean time spent socializing or intentionally designated leisure time. I mean time spent procrastinating, time spent being too indecisive to do anything, too much time spent dreaming instead of doing. Limit THAT time.

13. Make sure you’re actually accomplishing things instead of doing your best to appear busy. There is a growing trend of bragging about how much you have to do and how little sleep you get, but those people usually spend most of their day doing busywork. Busywork gets you nowhere.

14. Find the sweet spot between never checking in with yourself to make sure you actually like the direction you’re heading in, and obsessing daily about what you’re doing with your life. There’s a nice middle ground there.

15. I keep thinking I’m going to hit a point where I have it all figured out. The more I experience and the more I observe older people around me, the more I realize I will never have it all figured out, because no one does. I will just get better at faking it to those younger than me.

16. Take the time to appreciate how far you’ve come. We spend too much time continuing to look up at the next goal. Spend a little time in the joy of having accomplished something you wanted, before automatically moving on to the next thing.

17. Relying on someone else to “save you” is a fool’s game. Learn to rely on yourself, because you will frequently need to do just that.

18. On the flip side, don’t shut yourself off to the point where you feel you can’t ask for help or simply a shoulder to cry on. Having moments of messiness, vulnerability, and weakness is human; pretending you can handle it all without the slightest bit of support is the surest path to a meltdown.

19. Don’t beat yourself up too much OR go the other direction and start blaming everything on others. Be honest with yourself, assess what you could have done better, and try to do that thing instead next time.

20. Social media has its place. Make sure you’re not making it a more influential part of your life than it should be. Connect and keep up to date, but if you find yourself obsessing over ex’s, comparing yourself to everyone on your friend list, or ignoring people around you to be on it, re-assess your priorities.

21. Stop caring so much about what other people are doing in general. Focus on yourself and the path you want to follow.

22. Don’t take people for granted; do it for too long and you’ll find the people you thought would  always be there for you have slipped away.

23. Never lose your joy at small things.

24. Never lose your curiosity with everything.

25. Travel can help inspire you, but even if you can’t travel, just start exploring and noticing things – a new street you’ve never walked down before, a beautiful sky, a great sunny afternoon with friends around you – and you’ll be surprised how much your mind will be happily invigorated.

Hyde Park Summer

A gorgeous, sunny day in Hyde Park.

26. It’s better to act on something rather than wait until you’re fully ready to do it. Because you will never be fully ready for anything.

27. Occasionally take time to listen to someone with whom you have nothing in common. It’s too easy to surround ourselves with people almost exactly like us and never see a different point of view.

28. Most importantly: never stop exploring and experiencing all you can!